Swiss grit and graft
True PrintEssays by David Shields and Rudolf Barmettler
Lars Müller, £35 / €40
Dafi Kühne is a design polymath, a man of many and often contrasting ideas, styles and skills, and letterpress is the common thread that brings his ideas to fruition. From his studio in Näfels, Switzerland, Kühne focuses on the poster, something of a national concern for his fellow Swiss designers. But whereas Swiss design is known for its purist aesthetic, Kühne turns this on its head.
Taking letterpress into a fresh, new and unfamiliar direction, Kühne works with not only the traditional materials of letterpress on ‘obsolete’ proofing presses, but also throws in lasercut MDF, plywood or plexiglass, linocuts, photopolymer plates and even fridge magnets. His visual wit and use of texture as well as type seamlessly straddles digital and analogue processes – whatever is appropriate for the job.
Kühne’s work does not revel in the romanticism that stifles much contemporary letterpress; instead it eschews the historic and handmade. ‘The result shouldn’t reveal it was made by letterpress printing,’ he says. He sees letterpress as a method of production, offering interesting new possibilities when combined with digital technology. It also allows him an obsessive level of control freakery, able to personally change every detail right through the process, until the very last moment when the work is finally trimmed. Though hand-printing posters through the night on a proofing press may be where Dafi Kühne’s devotion sets him apart, you get the feeling this is both a vocation and a compulsion.
True Print (Lars Müller, £35 / €40) features essays by David Shields and Rudolf Barmettler that discuss Kühne’s approach and methodology, as well as his time working for Hatch Show Print and teaching in America. An insightful Q&A reveals just how he got to this point. The somewhat conventional book layout belies its interior, which is rich in images.
Gritty black-and-white full spreads give behind-the-scenes views of the designer at work in his studio. The posters are large enough to allow the reader to see every detail, using special colours throughout to achieve eye-popping and faithful reproductions of the original work. Detail freaks will enjoy the captions. It also features a letterpress printed cover and
dust jacket printed by Kühne himself.
If you are interested in hearing a fresh and uncompromising new voice, and seeing a new vision for letterpress in the 21st century, then this book deserves a place on your bookshelf. Kühne’s commitment to the process
is the overriding message. He is true to the materials and the history of print, and true to himself.
Cover of True Print.
Top. A proofing press in Kühne’s studio photographed by Peter Hauser.
Ross Shaw designer, art director, printmaker, Oxon
Read the full version in Eye no. 94 vol. 24, 2017
Eye is the world’s most beautiful and collectable graphic design journal, published quarterly for professional designers, students and anyone interested in critical, informed writing about graphic design and visual culture. It is available from all good design bookshops and online at the Eye shop, where you can buy subscriptions, back issues and single copies of the latest issue. You can see what Eye 94 looks like at Eye before You Buy on Vimeo.